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Coach, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone...
In the deepest sense, we just want coaches to take care of themselves.
Did you know that humans evolved with the potential to literally regulate one another’s energy efficiency? As they say…with great power comes great responsibility.
This is a power and responsibility that coaches often take for granted. Once people achieve a position of power or status, research shows they actually become less sensitive to, and more disconnected from, the needs of the people who work ‘for’ them or are in a subservient role.
This is a dangerous cocktail.
It turns out that coaches without a level of interpersonal sensitivity, self-awareness, and self-care are actually hurting themselves.
No matter who you are, you are regulating the energy efficiency of the people around you. In fact, just your words can literally change the way someone else’s brain operates and how efficiently their brain is regulating their body’s energy expenditure.
Not sure you believe me on this one?
Let’s take a little walk down memory lane. Think back to your very first romantic partner. Really dive in there. Get into the honeymoon phase. The time you spent together was magical. You couldn’t see enough of one another. Even that annoying thing they did before you got together started to seem appealing. It was young, blossoming love.
And then one day, you got a text: “We need to talk.”
How many of us have read or said “we need to talk.” It almost NEVER comes before the start of a good conversation. Most of us know that this is the start of the end (sadly). So put yourself back in that position, and imagine how you felt.
What was happening? Your partner’s language, and your relationship with your partner, was disrupting your energy efficiency!
If you’re still not sure you believe me, send those 4 words to your current partner and see what happens. Even a friend will do. Just proceed at your own risk!
The point being...you are, in some way, responsible for how the people around you perform.
And not just responsible in a technical, tactical, or strategic sense. Responsible in a wellbeing sense. Responsible for your own thinking and feeling, and how it affects those around you.
That post-game speech where you deride your players for not executing? Maybe it works in the short-term, for 1 or 2 games. But in the long-term, this kind of behavior undermines elite performance. It doesn’t undermine elite performance because the coach “loses the locker room,” though that can happen too. It undermines elite performance because it dysregulates the performers. And subpar performance with poor interpersonal tact leads to losing the locker room.
So maybe you should talk to someone.
Or write. Or meditate. Or do yoga. Or call your loved ones. Eat well. Exercise. Or sleep.
This isn’t just a therapist and a coach advocating for coaches going to therapy, though we believe it can help tremendously (nod to Ted Lasso for showcasing that). In the deepest sense, we just want coaches to take care of themselves.
You should do it for yourself — after all, you’ll perform better, and you performing better helps your team perform better — but if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the people you work with. Do it for the players you coach and serve.
Do it because you want to be better.
We haven’t even gotten to why this level of self-care for performance is necessary. The head coach role (and even assistant coach roles) today have expanded so much from where they started, it would be damn near impossible for almost anyone to keep up. In any given day, a head coach may do media, coach, speak to the team, draw up a game plan, meet with staff, meet with players, meet with assistants, watch film, and evaluate a prospect. And that’s in a normal day, with no crisis or emergency unfolding!
Research confirms that there are several types of stressors coaches face: pressure and expectations, isolation, concerns about athletes, preparation, managing conflict, managing organizational issues (see The Tough Stuff and Olosuga et al., 2009). We know burnout is a real issue. The expectation that the coach can play all these roles, and do any or all of them well, is unrealistic and unhelpful. It’s also the nature of the job.
Being a head coach is a tremendous responsibility. It’s also a position with tremendous prestige, respect, and a great honor to have an organization entrust its future, and the performance of players and staff, to you. Coaches owe it to themselves to not only optimize technical, tactical, and strategic performance, but to optimize individual and interpersonal performance as well.
The little things we don’t see can make a huge difference. More effectively regulating the emotions and energy efficiency of those around you can, quite literally, be the difference between winning and losing - if it means tipping your players into a state of better or worse energy efficiency.
Coaching is stressful. But stressful, hard, and fun can coexist. The way to make it so is by prioritizing your wellness as a foundation of performance. If you want to manage stress and hard better, and have more fun, take care of yourself.
Go talk to someone.